Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Goody's Fast Relief 500

by Eric McClung on March 28, 2012 @ 12:24:52 PDT


Shaped like a paperclip, Martinsville Speedway is among the oldest and most unique tracks on the circuit. The flat straightaways and sharp turns led to extreme braking conditions, as drivers come screaming into the corners. Patience and timing are the keys to making passes at Martinsville. Drivers who can set someone up and out-brake their rivals going through the turns will find it easiest to get to the front. Those relying on straightaway speed alone will lose their handle and give back their position in the turns more often than not.

Practice sessions: Friday, March 30 at 12:30 pm ET, 3:30 pm ET
Qualifying: Saturday, March 31 at 11:30 am ET
Race: Sunday, February 1 at 12:30 pm ET
Location: Ridgeway, Va.
Shape: Oval
Length: 0.526 miles
Laps: 500
Turns 1-4: 12 degrees
Front stretch: 0 degrees
Back stretch: 0 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Budweiser Prohibition Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Over the last seven races at Martinsville, Harvick has recorded an average running position of 10th or better on five occasions with eight finishes of 12th or better. All three Harvick's top-fives at Martinsville have come in the last three races, including his first career win on the paperclip last spring. Now five races into the season Harvick has collected a pair of top-fives and has finished no worse than 11th so far.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Since 2006, Earnhardt's average running position at Martinsville has been 15th or better in 11 of 12 races and 12th or better in four straight. After joining Hendrick in 2006 Earnhardt has finished as the runner-up at Martinsville twice, including last spring, and owns half a dozen finishes inside the top 10 in eight starts. Coming off his second top-three finish of the season Earnhardt currently sits third in points and quickly emerging as a safe middle-tier selection.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

In 13 career starts at Martinsville, Hamlin has totaled four wins and nine top-fives. The Virginia-raised driver has held an average running position of fifth or better in four of the last six races and no worse than eighth in eight straight. After a quick start to the season, including a win at Phoenix International Raceway, Hamlin struggled in the next two races until winning the pole at Auto Club Speedway. A bad call from his crew chief caused Hamlin to finish 11th in the rain-shortened race by putting out of second place during the caution that eventually ended the race.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 MyLowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Since the fall of 2002, Johnson has finished no worse than 11th in 19 starts at Martinsville with half a dozen wins, 14 top-fives and 18 top-10s. With such a resume it comes as no surprise that his career average running position of 6.3 ranks first among all drivers. Last week at Fontana, another site Johnson excels at, he was lucky to escape with a 10th-place result as his engine began to fail during the final caution. As one of the top driver tracks on the schedule many of the elite wheelmen have impressive numbers at Martinsville, Johnson paramount among them.

Jeff Burton | No. 31 BB&T Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

In 2010, Burton held average running positions of third and fourth at Martinsville, leading an average of 137 laps in each race, but only managed one top-10 finish. He didn't run as well at site last year but finished sixth in the fall. Burton has been hit or miss this season with two finishes or sixth or better including three inside the top-15 but two others outside of the top 20. If he displays good speed during the practice sessions, Burton is very capable of another good run at Martinsville.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

If there's one track that Gordon can use get his season back on track, Martinsville is that place. Currently sitting 25th in points, Gordon owns just one top-10 and two finishes on the lead lap thus far. In 38 career starts at Martinsville, Gordon's 6.9 average finish is his best among all tracks. After sweeping the 2005 races, the most recent of his seven career wins on the paperclip, Gordon has added three runner-up performances and a total of 11 top-fives in a dozen starts. Over the last 11 races Gordon has led an average of 95.7 laps per race.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Despite owning just one top-10 in nine career starts at Martinsville, Allmendinger is a driver that's on the rise on the paperclip. Over the last three races his average running position has improved from 16th to 10th to ninth, each resulting in a top-15 finish. While things have started off slowly since moving to Penske, Allmendinger has finished inside the top 20 in three of his last four races and scored a season-high 15th last week at Fontana.

Brian Vickers | No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Over his last six starts at Martinsville, Vickers has finished 11th or better three times with an average running position of 17th in eight of his last nine starts. While those aren't the most impressive performances, Vickers makes for a good selection among the bottom-tier drivers. In his season debut, Vickers finished fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading the second-most laps of race by pacing 125 circuits. Vickers had never run anywhere near that well in his 14 previous starts at Bristol so another turnaround could be in store this week as well.

Temper your expectations

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Among all drivers Biffle's career average running position of 22.3 at Martinsville ranks only 23rd. Since 2009 he's registered a single top-10 in half a dozen starts with four finishes outside of the top 20. The Biff has been a tear this season with three third-place finishes and an average finish of 5.6 that has him leading in the point standings. Owners in allocation formats would be wise to save themselves a Biffle start for another time.

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation/Gary Sinise Foundation | Roush Fenway Racing

Like his aforementioned teammate, Kenseth is not an ideal option for Martinsville. Although his performances have been slightly better, including one top-10 and three top-15s since 2009, Kenseth's body of work doesn't hold up against the other elite drivers to choose from. Given the asking price he commands in most formats Kenseth doesn't present much value this week.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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